Your morning routine can set the mood for the rest of your day. What you eat and drink, how you move your body and the things with which you interact all contribute to productivity and stress levels that will carry forward into the evening.
Tony Nuñez, Ph.D., associate professor of Exercise Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and naturopathic doctors Brandi Moore and Paris Prestridge in MSU Denver’s Integrative Health Care program recommend optimal practices for lasting energy and mental wellness.
Light to moderate routine exercise and stretching can help start your body’s systems and will have energizing effects similar to caffeine, Nuñez said. Be sure to drink water and eat before exercising, Nuñez added, saying that working out in the morning is preferred over working out at night because it can help your body regulate everything it takes in throughout the day.
“Major joints like shoulders and hips are important to stretch,” Nuñez said. “Don’t go into a full range of motion (right away), as the body is very tight when waking up. Take a warm shower to help mobilize things.”
He also suggests avoiding putting your head below your heart when stretching in the morning because it could cause blood-pressure changes that could make you feel lightheaded or get a head rush.
Limit coffee intake to one cup
Before reaching for coffee, drink a glass of water first thing after waking up, Prestridge said. Then, avoid drinking too much coffee, she added, as large amounts of caffeine can make you jittery and then crash.
“I try to have people keep it to one cup,” Moore said. “Often, there’s this vicious cycle between having low energy and cravings due to an imbalance of cortisol (stress hormone), which then causes them to reach for another cup when really your adrenal (glands) just need to rest.”
To combat the midafternoon slump, which is a normal part of the human circadian process, Prestridge said, try green tea instead of coffee in the afternoon since its caffeine levels are minimal.
Incorporate herbs and supplements
Instead of or in addition to coffee, Prestridge recommends adding herbs such as rhodiola and ashwagandha to your morning routine to support adrenal glands and manage energy levels. Rhodiola and ashwagandha have been shown to increase energy and stamina and help reduce stress and anxiety. Moore also recommends the herb/berry schisandra, an adaptogen that mimics the body’s resistance to stressors.
Avoid your phone
Avoid social media first thing in the morning, as it can lead to a worsened mood for your day, Prestridge said. Moore recommended holding off on looking at your phone until you’ve done your morning routine and to try meditation and breathing exercises to minimize stress levels.
“How you start your day with your first dopamine hit is how you’re going to want to keep getting your dopamine hits throughout the day,” Moore said. “Social-media use has been shown to spike dopamine levels in the same way that a drug would.”
Eat unsaturated fats and protein-rich foods
Foods that make up typical American breakfasts, such as sugary cereals, bagels and doughnuts, will spike your blood sugar and cause you to crash by midmorning. Prestridge recommends eating good fats and proteins such as avocados, nuts and nut butters, whole-grain toast, eggs, plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. Foods containing omega-3s and fiber are great selections to help start the day, she said.
Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, Moore said, noting that it’s easier to wake up earlier in the summer months than in winter. Opening blinds or going for a quick outdoor walk can have a huge impact on your morning, helping to regulate cortisol levels, she added.
For parents with kids, Moore recommends waking up earlier than them so you can complete your morning routine and have more energy for them throughout the day.
Prioritize a good night’s sleep
A nightly routine that ensures quality sleep is where the morning routine starts, Prestridge said. Nuñez agreed that nighttime should be reserved for winding down, saying most people shouldn’t exercise intensely before going to bed — give the body enough time to stabilize itself after a workout.
“Getting to sleep too late affects your following day and next night’s sleep and so on,” Moore said. “So it becomes a cycle that is hard to break.”